Governance is the system by which local authorities direct and control their functions and relate to their communities.
Good governance leads to good management, good performance, good stewardship of public money, good public engagement and, ultimately, good outcomes.
Governance comprises the arrangements put in place to ensure that the intended outcomes for stakeholders are defined and achieved. It is about the systems which make sure these things can be done, that they can be done well and that they can be done in an open, transparent and accountable way.
The council has adopted its own Local Code of Corporate Governance based on guidance called "Delivering Good Governance in Local Government" (CIPFA/SOLACE, 2016). The Code has seven over-arching principles:-
- Behaving with integrity, demonstrating strong commitment to ethical values, and respecting the rule of law
- Ensuing openness and comprehensive stakeholder engagement
- Defining outcomes in terms of sustainable economic, social, and environmental benefits
- Determining the interventions necessary to optimise the achievement of the intended outcomes
- Determining the entity's capacity, including the capability of its leadership and the individuals within it
- Managing risks and performance through robust internal control and strong public financial management
- Implementing good practices in transparency, reporting, and audit to deliver effective accountability
Each of those principles is broken down into a list of elements. Evidence of compliance is identified for each element and the Code is completed each year with a note of that evidence. Compliance for each element is then assessed and scored red, amber or green. The Governance Principles Diagram illustrates the interaction of the principles and list some of the key pieces of evidence.
An annual governance statement is presented to Governance & Risk Committee in June each year. It is a legal requirement and forms part of the council's annual accounts. It highlights any areas of concern or where work is required to maintain standards. Reports are presented to committee twice a year to show progress being made on those issues.
The annual government statement provides an assurance about compliance based on:-
- the annual statutory review of the system of internal control by the Audit Risk & Counter Fraud Manager
- annual compliance statement and other reports produced by the Monitoring Officer and certified by senior officers in relation to significant council policies and procedures
- the newly-populated evidence-based Local Code of Corporate Governance
- the progress made of areas of governance concern
The conclusion and assurance for 2020/21 was that, although there are areas where improvement can be made, based on the local governance framework, arrangements and review already described, and an assessment of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on corporate governance, the council and the West Lothian community can be assured that the council's corporate governance standards have been substantially met in 2020/21.
A summary report is presented to Council Executive each year to give assurance to the whole council on its compliance with the principles of good governance.